Study helps explain high rate of adverse drug reactions among women

Women are up to 75 per cent more likely to experience adverse reactions to prescription drugs compared to men because of a range of differences in traits between the sexes, according to a new study from The Australian National University and Liverpool John Moores University.

The researchers say more should be done to take this into account when it comes to treating diseases.

Dr Susi Zajitschek, a biomedical scientist at LJMU, said: “Traditionally, females have been left out of many medical studies due to assumed higher variability and the fear this would lead to less reliable results.

“We now know that the sexes differ, but how they differ - very much depends on the trait in question.”

The team analysed more than two million data points, capturing over 300 traits in mice, a preclinical disease model, and concluded comprehensively that “females aren’t just smaller versions of males.”

Lead author of the study Dr Laura Wilson of ANU, said adverse reactions to drug treatments in females have previously thought to be due to differences in body weight, but the reality is not that simple.

“It is not about body weight, so drug reactions are unlikely to be alleviated by adjusting the dosage on that basis.”

The analyses recovered sex differences in many traits that cannot be explained by body weight differences. Some examples are physiology traits, such as iron levels and body temperature, morphology traits such as lean mass and fat mass, and heart traits such as heart rate variability.

According to the researchers, we know much less about how women experience disease.

“Most biomedical research has been conducted on male cells or male animals. It has been assumed any results will apply to females as well,” Dr Wilson said.

“But we know men and women experience disease differently, including how diseases develop, the length and severity of symptoms and effectiveness of treatment options.”

Women are often worse off as a result.

“For example, crushing chest pain is often cited as a primary symptom of heart attack. While this might be common for men, it’s a much less common symptom for women. Women are more likely to experience intense nausea.

“Our study could help clarify the nature of the differences in responses to certain drugs and provide a path forward to reducing drug reactions.”

The research team also includes scientists from the University of New South Wales, Melio Healthcare and the European Bioinformatics Institutive in the UK.

The study has been published in Nature Communications.



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